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Visual Variation and Exercises

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Variation can occur only after a pattern has been developed. Variation can be slight or extreme and always has the effect of setting itself apart from the established pattern, thus creating emphasis. The means of variation are directly tied to the means of pattern. Any aspect of any of the major categories of pattern can be varied, thus any aspect of the poem can provide emphasis. The greater the consistency of the pattern, the more emphasis will be put on its variation. Thus if you have a poem with 20 consecutive four-lined stanzas (quatrains), and a final stanza of three lines, there will be a tremendous amount of emphasis put on the variation. This rule of variation also applies in the discussion on sound and meter. What words receive the most emphasis in "Annabel Lee" and why?

Visual Pattern Exercises

Rework the Patterns of a Poem

As an exercise, rework the Robert Frost poem, "Mowing" below (or find another) so that it shows new patterns. Try to incorporate at least three different pattern elements in the new version of the poem.

Write a brief description of how each pattern change affects the poem.


THERE was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

(Taken from

Experiment in Variation

Taking a cue from the William Carlos Williams poem "To a Poor Old Woman"— Write a sentence and work it into a stanza with line variations that emphasize different parts of the sentence. ie: (and your examples are encouraged to be better than this...see the Williams poem above for a good example) The sentence "try it, you might like it" becomes:

Try it, you might
like it. Try it
you might like
it. Try it you
might like it.

Write a stanza before and after the one above using three of the words that appear in the original sentence somewhere in each stanza. ie:

Try to find a new way
of looking at pattern.
Think about it, you
might find it worthwhile.

Try it, you might
like it. Try it
you might like
it. Try it you
might like it.

It's easier than you
think, if you try.
Look a stanzaic variation!
Do you like it?
Works Cited

Hall, Donald. ed. Claims for Poetry. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2000.

Hass, Robert. Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Oppen, George. Selection made from Oppen's Daybook, collected from the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California, San Diego.